People

Triple-Crown Hiker Harnesses the Power of Positive Thoughts

BY Karen Gough TIMEMay 11, 2022 PRINT

For three years, 25-year-old Eddie Janicki had felt content working as a civil engineer on a skyscraper-construction project in downtown Seattle. Then he met with the company’s financial advisor. The advisor told him if he continued down the same path, he could retire around age 60. Eddie thought, “That’s great,” but later remembered that his grandmother had experienced her first symptoms of Huntington’s Disease at age 60. An inherited disease, Huntington’s causes a progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain, resulting in physical and mental deterioration. Eddie knew his mother had a 50 percent chance of inheriting it, and if she got it, Eddie would have a 50 percent chance of getting it.

Eddie said it was like a light bulb going off in his mind: “Why do I want to work my whole life and then retire just to deteriorate in retirement, not having done a lot of things?” So in 2018, Eddie took a leave of absence and accepted an earlier invitation from his best friend, and friend’s brother, to hike the first leg of the Triple Crown: the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). They completed the trail, which leads from Southern California, through Oregon and Washington to the border of British Columbia, in five months. “I think people should try and live their lives throughout their lives,” Eddie says, “in the strength of their health and their youth, instead of waiting to do things in retirement.”

Eddie Janicki
Eddie in the Pasayten Wilderness, Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018. (courtesy of Eddie Janicki)

In 2020 Eddie hiked the 3,028-mile Continental Divide Trail (CDT), from the border of New Mexico/Mexico to the border of Montana/Canada.

Now in 2022, Eddie is hiking the last leg of the Triple Crown: the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail (AT) that passes through 14 states between Georgia and Maine.  “In general,” Eddie says, the disease spurred him “to say yes to more things, and be grateful on a daily basis” about his health right now.

Appalachian Trail
Map of the Appalachian Trail. (courtesy of FarOut)

So Far So Good

One week into the trail, Eddie is feeling good. He’s hiking alone but looks forward to friends and family joining him for short stretches of the trail. On average, Eddie walks fifteen miles a day, but will occasionally do twenty-five miles. He once accepted a 24-hour-challenge and hiked 52 miles on the CDT without sleep. “It’s just a weird experience,” he says, “when you’re sleep-deprived and hiking in the middle of the night with the headlamp. You start hallucinating… But it’s late in the trail, when you’re kind of in the good zone, and your body becomes a hiking machine.”

On the day of this interview, Eddie was taking a “zero” day in a motel in Blairsville, Georgia, resting, doing laundry, buying groceries, and eating “a ton of food.” “On the trail,” Eddie says, “it’s impossible to get enough calories in the day for me, so a lot of it is just learning to cope with the feeling of being hungry.” When hiking, his favorite go-to meal is a Ramen Bomb: top ramen mixed with tuna, peanut butter, and honey. Along with protein bars and granola, Eddie also takes MiO electrolytes, and a daily multi-vitamin.

Eddie Janicki
Eddie in the Sierra Mountains of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018. (courtesy of Eddie Janicki)

A Mental Challenge

“It’s much more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge to hike one of these trails,” Eddie says. “If you have mental struggles, anxiety, maybe depression, those will be laid bare on the trail.” For Eddie, it comes down to having a positive attitude: “I am a prayerful man. I pray every day even if it’s just short, and that helps me get through.” He also emulates Native-American practices of expressing thankfulness toward nature. For example, when he’d get to a big Yucca tree as he hiked through the desert of the CDT, he’d make it a habit to thank the tree for its shade and thank God for providing the tree. That would get him into a “more positive line of thinking.”

Dealing with Loneliness

On the PCT, Eddie met hundreds of hikers. In contrast, he hiked the CDT during the pandemic and hardly met anyone. The first week was the hardest, dealing with the heat and missing his girlfriend. Eddie felt like quitting. But then he’d visualize his girlfriend and think, “I’m thankful for my girlfriend. Man, if I was home, I imagine walking in and seeing her doing her homework at her desk, and maybe she has her headphones in, and there’s music going, and she’s twiddling her hair cause she’s in a good groove, and then boom! I’m uplifted instead of put down.”

Eddie Janicki
Eddie on the Continental Divide Trail in 2020, near Shoshone Lake, Yellowstone. (courtesy of Eddie Janicki)

Scariest Time

It’s hard to avoid a few scares on the trail, including unpredictable moose and rushing grizzly bears. One of the worst times for Eddie occurred as he hiked across a snowy-mountain ridge on the CDT. He plunged through the snow and except for his backpack snagging on the ground, would have fallen down a bottomless pit. Carefully, he lifted up his arms without dislodging more snow and “spider-crawled” his way out of the hole. He crawled across the remainder of the traverse to safety and then laid down for an hour, waiting for his heart to calm.

For Eddie however, the scenery, the people he meets, and the sense of accomplishment make it worthwhile. “It’s made me a more confident person and a stronger and more resolved person… I feel like I can take these experiences and tackle anything in life.”

Grays Peak
East side of Grays Peak (14,278 ft.), the highest point on the Continental Divide Trail. (courtesy of Eddie Janicki)

Advice for Others

What advice would Eddie give for those considering an undertaking like this? “Stop worrying about the x’s and o’s too much and just commit to doing it.” Eddie doesn’t worry about the naysayers, knowing he can’t help what others think. Instead, he hopes to motivate others: “If you’re really passionate about something and you follow through with it, you’ll find that people get energy off that in their daily lives. They won’t be as stressed driving through traffic to work; they’ll be slightly more motivated to do a better job today. I’ve got little texts like that from people I haven’t talked to in years. It goes back to positive energy and it goes a long way.”

You can follow Eddie’s Appalchian Trail hike on Instagram: @eddiejanicki

Eddie and Eric
Eddie playing guitar next to his friend Eric on the PCT. (courtesy of Eddie Janicki)
Karen Gough
Karen Gough is a writer and travel enthusiast. She shares her family’s travel tales at TheFootlooseScribbler.com
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